Chicago Catholic Church paid $80m to sex abuse victims: lawyers

Bob Chiarito
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Victims' rights attorney Jeff Anderson, pictured in April, 2019, said the payouts varied from five figures for some victims to more than $1 million

Victims' rights attorney Jeff Anderson, pictured in April, 2019, said the payouts varied from five figures for some victims to more than $1 million (AFP Photo/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)

Chicago (AFP) - A victim of clergy abuse urged other survivors to come forward Tuesday as lawyers revealed that the Catholic Church in Chicago had paid out more than $80 million in sexual assault cases.

Joe Iacono, who says he was abused by his parish priest when he was 11, spoke at a news conference as Jeff Anderson and Associates announced it had won compensation totaling $80,080,000 for 160 victims over two decades.

"I know today that there are still a lot of survivors that are suffering in silence. Those individuals need to reach out," Iacono said as he opened up about his recovery, appearing at times choked with emotion.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said the payouts in cases involving 48 priests in total varied from five figures for some victims to more than $1 million.

In each case the cash failed to bring closure, he added, although the abusers were removed from their positions.

"Payment of money in a case does not bring healing, it does not make their pain go away," Anderson said.

"But standing up for yourself and giving voice to your truth as a survivor, and knowing you have done something to protect other kids, is helpful."

The Catholic Church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy, starting in the Boston archdiocese in the United States in 2002.

The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing the abuse, and its investigation was turned into Oscar-winning Hollywood movie "Spotlight" (2015), starring Rachel McAdams.

- 'Much work to do' -

Faced with a growing number of cases worldwide and repeated criticism over the Church's response, Pope Francis in 2013 introduced legislation covering child sex abuse on Vatican grounds and allowing for sentences of up to 12 years.

Since the crisis became public in the 2000s, the US church has spent more than $3 billion in settlements, according to abuse tracking site Bishop Accountability.

The group has documented settlements for 5,679 alleged victims of Catholic clergy -- only a third of 15,235 allegations through 2009 that bishops say they have received. One estimate suggests up there were 100,000 US victims.

Iacono, who settled his case against the Chicago Archdiocese 15 years ago, came forward after reading about the Boston scandal.

"I feel as though I got a lot of my power back because the Church admitted that this happened," he said.

"They knew that my abuser was actively abusing children of my age, and I was about 11 years old at that time and Jeff helped me through the entire process."

Iacono and Anderson said the Church had improved its handling of cases, although much work remained.

Anderson said he had settled seven cases involving five perpetrators last week and filed suit Monday in a case involving the head of a residential facility for abused and neglected children.

"We have at least three dozen survivors that we are actively working with and against the archdiocese. We have so much work to do," he said.

Calls to the Archdiocese of Chicago were not returned.